Part 2 of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour finds me holding Scarlet in my hands. Now this book is the 2nd book of the King Raven Trilogy, written by the distinguished and revered author, Stephen Lawhead.
Unfortunately for me, I have not had time to read this book to review it properly. Seeing as our well-pipe has developed a large hole just before Thanksgiving (ever tried hosting Thanksgiving without running water?) my time has been cut short lately and I wasn’t able to get to it in time.
My daughter, however, is reading it and I expect it to be finished in record time. So maybe I’ll get some sort of review in tomorrow. She is a far faster reader than I, who ponderously plods through books, savoring each word and doing a million other things in between sessions.
Until then I can at least tell you what I know about the two books.
One of the ways that Hood excels is in characterization:
- Rhi Brychan (King of Elfael) – excellently portrayed as the grumpy father who can never be pleased.
- Bran (becomes King Raven Hood) – well developed from the prologue onward as having been deeply affected by his mother’s death. He then gave up pleasing his father until his world came crashing down around him and the mantle of responsibility was placed on his shoulders.
- Merian – Bran’s confused love interest. She loves him, she loves him not. Which will win?
- Tuck – the faithful but free-booting priest. Let’s just say that he uses his flatulance at appropriate moments.
- Count Falkes – Bran’s shivering, sniveling nemesis.
- Bernard de Neufmarche – The calculating Norman baron who wants to steal all of the Welsh lands.
Not only is Lawhead’s characterization excellent, but his “specificity” is great. By specificity I mean his ability to use details appropriately to highlight a scene. For instance, there is a part where Bernard de Neufmarche is being introduced. Here is the first snippet:
So be it!
Waiting had bought him nothing, and he would wait no longer.
At the door to his rooms, he shouted for his chamberlain. “Remey!” he crid. “My writing instruments! At once!”
Flipping open the door, he strode to the hearth, snatched up a reed from the bundle and thrust it into the small, sputtering fire. He then carried the burning rush to the candletree atop the square oak table that occupied the centre of the room and began lighting the candles. As the shadows shrank beneath the lambent light, the baron dashed wine from a jar into his silver cup, raised it to his lips, and drank a deep, thirsty draught. He then shouted for his chamberlain again and collapsed into his chair.
And here is the second:
“Of course, sire,” replied the chamerlain, gesturing for the two kitchen servants to place the trays of food before the baron while he refilled the silver cup from a flagon. “I believe I saw young Ormand in the hall only a short while ago.”
“Good,” said Bernard, spearing one of the hard-crusted pies from the tray with his knife. “Tell him to prepare to ride out at first light. This letter must reach Beauvais before the month is out.”
The baron bit into the cold pie and chewed thoughtfully. He ate a little more and then took another long draught of wine, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, “Now then, go find my wife and tell her I have returned.”
The details of his lighting the candletree, drinking his wine, and his meal and how he eats it reveal much about his wealth, his state of mind, his character. Lawhead never throws details in without reason, and he has a touch for just the right amount.
However, you can count on these books to do more than just have great characters and properly detailed scenes. You can count on them for action enough to keep you interested and caring about the characters and what happens to them.
One of the most interesting things for me is that Hood is written in 3rd person (with the focus on Bran), while Scarlet is written in 1st person. This is surprising because normally Lawhead (or anyone for that matter) keeps the same methodology throughout a series. Why did he change? The only reasons I can think of are:
- After writing Hood he felt that he should have written it in 1st person, and so it was never too late to switch.
- He planned it all along … with the overarching first book 3rd person made more sense. With Scarlet being told from jail 1st person made more sense.
- He just likes mixing things up so we pay attention.
Personally, I think Lawhead is at his best when he is writing in 1st person. This is a difficult viewpoint to write a novel from, but he has shown again and again that he can do it masterfully.
From the small amount that I have read in Scarlet, I would say that this book may be one of his best yet, and that is saying a lot. Will Scarlet has one of those engaging characters that grabs you. Two lines from his first chapter took me, hook, line, and sinker:
All saints bear witness! If pushing the pen across the parchment taxes a man as much as Odo claims, we should honour as heroes all who ply the quill, amen.
Perhaps, in God’s dark plan, friend Will is here to instruct this indolent youth in a better lesson, thinks I. Well, we will do what can be done to save him.
These are both simply too much. In the first, Lawhead is giving sly mouthed sarcastic praise to his own craft of being an author, and in the second, he is saying that the scribe needs to be “saved”. How funny! He completely turns the tables—the rogue on death row is going to try and save the priest. Hah!